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State's active cases fall below death total

by Jeannie Roberts | February 23, 2021 at 7:09 a.m.
Barbara McDonald, an advanced practice registered nurse for UAMS, begins to screen patients Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 during a drive-thru covid-19 testing at the Lonoke Community Center. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Continuing a downward trend, the number of active covid-19 cases in the state fell to 4,899 on Monday -- the first time since the virus officially hit the state in March that more Arkansans have died from the disease than currently have it.

Deaths from the virus rose by six to 5,363.

Another 245 new cases were added Monday, bringing the cumulative total to 315,759.

"New and active cases continue to remain lower than we've seen in the past few weeks," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a news release. "We're distributing vaccine doses throughout the state and encourage those who are eligible to make sure they're signed up. We expect vaccine and testing numbers to increase this week with clear roads across the state."

On Monday morning, state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield President and CEO Curtis Barnett announced at a news conference a new initiative to educate Arkansans about covid-19 vaccines and encourage individuals to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"'Vaccinate the Natural State' will address the misinformation that has left many hesitant, or unsure how or when they can be vaccinated," Dillaha said. "We want Arkansans to understand that the vaccine is the safest, most effective way to protect themselves and their communities. We are appreciative that Arkansas Blue Cross stepped forward to help the state during the earliest rounds of the vaccinations and now has convened these organizations to create a movement that will have a lasting effect on our state."

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The "Vaccinate the Natural State" initiative teams up the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield with numerous other business and social entities, including the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, Arkansas Minority Health Commission, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Council, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Walmart Inc.

The way out of the pandemic is to vaccinate every eligible Arkansan as soon as the vaccine becomes available to them, Barnett said at the news conference.

"Vaccinations offer our best path for eliminating the virus, ending the suffering, and starting the process of returning our lives back to some sense of normal," Barnett said. "The organizations that have come together to fuel this movement represent best-of-class knowledge coupled with connected networks that can ensure the word gets out that 'Vaccinate the Natural State' can be life-changing for all of us."

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THE CAMPAIGN

Until recently, there seemed to be no end in sight for the the pandemic, Dillaha said.

"It is true that most of those diagnosed have had mild illness, but many still suffer ongoing effects that have yet to go away and some will have permanent damage to their health," Dillaha said. "Over 14,540 people at some point had been hospitalized due to covid-19 in our state. Not long ago, the number of people with covid-19 came very close to overwhelming our health system. Our hospitals did a great job of preventing that from happening."

Now, she said, there are two safe and "very effective" vaccines available to Arkansans with the possibility of others on the way.

It's her hope that everyone will make a "well-informed" decision about whether or not to take the vaccine, she said.

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"By well-informed, I mean that they will have accurate information that is easy for people to understand and is relevant to their lives. The last thing we want is for people to base a decision about getting the vaccine on wrong information or something they have misunderstood and then regret it when it's too late," she said. "If there's one thing this pandemic has made clear, it is this: No one is safe from covid-19 until we are all safe from covid-19."

"Vaccinate the Natural State" kicks off in mid-March and will feature two strategies: business-to-business and hyper-local community engagement.

Arkansas Blue Cross is partnering with the Arkansas State Chamber and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care to provide objective information and educational resources, video modules, communication tool kits, and outreach to help guide businesses through the roll-out of the covid-19 vaccine.

Randy Zook, president and CEO of the State Chamber, recited the "Power Over Pandemic Pledge," in which business leaders pledge to:

• Set an example by getting the vaccine as soon as possible.

• Encourage all medically eligible employees and others to get the shot.

• Provide resources needed to make an informed decision.

• Make it easy for those in an organization to get the vaccine.

"As we've done with many critical issues, our role will be to mobilize and educate local chambers of commerce across the state and help them reach out to the businesses and industries in their hometowns," Zook said. "All of the chambers across Arkansas will be asking businesses to join the movement through the 'Power Over Pandemic Pledge.'"

Dr. Creshelle Nash, Arkansas Blue Cross medical director for public programs and utilization management, said the campaign will especially focus on rural, under-served communities and those with health disparities.

"Covid-19 has uncovered and illuminated deep, long-term health and health care disparities, some more obvious than others, in our nation and here at home. We all have a responsibility to bridge the great disparity divides – racial, digital and health care access," Nash said. "Working together through 'Vaccinate the Natural State' will take us a long way in that journey to end the covid pandemic for our under-served communities now and begin to bring health equity to our state long-term."

DOSES REPORTED

As of Monday morning, 752,525 doses of the vaccine had been received with more expected this week, according to the Health Department.

New shipments of the vaccine -- two booster, or second dose, orders and half of the Moderna prime order that were ordered last week -- have been delayed because of the two winter storms that hit last week, Dillaha said.

"We expect those to be delivered this week, along with the orders placed since then," Dillaha said.

Hospitals, long-term care facilities, pharmacies (except for Walgreens, CVS and Walmart) and other health care providers reported having administered 487,212 of those, up 3,988 from the number as of Sunday.

In addition, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart reported having administered 32,028 doses, an increase of 69 from the number as of a day earlier.

About 157,000 second doses of the vaccines had been administered as of Monday afternoon.

Some missed their second shot because of the inclement weather, Dillaha said.

"While we don't have an exact figure, some pharmacies and clinics added extra hours over the weekend and others will be working to catch up this week. There is still time for those who missed the dose to get it," she said. "The second dose can't be administered before the scheduled date -- at least 21 days after the first dose for Pfizer and at least 28 days after the first dose for Moderna -- but it can be administered up to six weeks after the first dose for either vaccine."

Arkansans who need their second dose should reach out to the pharmacy or clinic where they got the first one.

BY THE NUMBERS

The number of people hospitalized with covid-19 in Arkansas rose by 11 to 588.

There were 225 covid-19 patients in ICUs, four more than the previous day.

The number of cases that were considered active fell by 771, to 4,899, as 1,010 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

There were 109 patients on ventilators, down five from Sunday and two fewer than the 111 reported a week ago.

Those who have ever been on a ventilator in the state with the virus rose by three, to 1,503.

The state inventory of ventilators remained the same at 1,135. About 67%, or 763, ventilators remain available for use, 20 more than Sunday.

There were 1,979 polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, and 482 antigen tests reported Monday -- much lower than the previous Monday when 3,896 PCR and 543 antigen tests were recorded.

There were 18,833 PCR and antigen tests performed in the past seven days -- 38,847 less than the 57,680 reported from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15.

Over the past seven days, 2,411 new cases were reported, a reduction of 3,564 cases from the previous seven-day period -- from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15 -- that saw 5,975 new cases.

"It is certainly possible that our case numbers will rise in the coming days as our testing increases across the state. The wintry weather did limit the number of tests that were conducted last week," Dillaha said. "However, we were seeing a downward trend in case numbers even before the wintry weather, and we are hopeful that that trend will continue even if the numbers are higher than last week."

In the past seven days, 88 Arkansans were reported as having lost their lives to the virus -- 81 fewer than the 169 deaths reported the previous week. Some of those deaths occurred in previous weeks.

COUNTY DATA

Pulaski County had the highest number of new cases, 34, followed by Garland County with 21; Benton County with 18; Pope County with 16; Sevier County with 13; and White County with 13.

The county with the highest number of active cases was Pulaski County with 641, followed by Benton County with 441; Washington County with 386; Garland County with 279; and Sebastian County with 255.

HOSPITAL BEDS

There were 46 fewer available hospital beds on Monday, going from 2,235 on Sunday to 2,189 -- a loss of 243 beds from the previous Monday when 2,432 beds were available.

The total beds -- whether filled or vacant -- increased by three to 8,806. The total includes more than 300 in psychiatric or rehabilitation facilities that aren't for covid-19 care.

That means that about 75% of the state's hospital beds are full.

Available ICU beds increased by five, going from 103 on Sunday to 108 on Monday. Out of 1,180 critical-care beds, about 9% were available Monday afternoon.

Total bed capacity -- hospital beds that can be staffed whether or not they are occupied -- remained the same at 8,806.

Maximum flex bed capacity -- the number of hospital beds regardless of ability to staff them -- remained the same at 11,418.

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